The Player of the Year in the Big Ten may be the honor that each player dreams of achieving, but the award has been won only once by a defensive player, and that was Illinois defensive tackle Don Thorpe in a 1983.
In 1990, the conference decided to give the award to one offensive player and one defensive player, as offensive player often receives more recognition. Only once since then could a defensive player have potentially won the award on both sides, and that would have been Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson during his Heisman Trophy-winning season, one that saw him play both offense and defense.
The fact that there is now a Graham Offensive Player of the Year award and a Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year award is fine with defensive players. What higher honor could there be for a defensive player in the Big Ten than to have their name associated with Nagurski?
Eight of the 12 teams in the Big Ten have a former player who has won what might be the most prestigious award in the Big Ten. This season, the award went to Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Chris Borland. He became the fifth Badger to receive the award.
Not only does Borland have the esteemed honor of winning this award, having his name associated with Nagurski was not enough for him. He also won the Butkus–Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year award. Yes, Borland can now brag that his name is mentioned along with Butkus as well as Nagurski.
The Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year award has only been given out three times. Lavonte David of the Nebraska Cornhuskers received the inaugural award, and Penn State‘s Michael Mauti was the recipient last season. Borland’s competition for this award was identical to those who were vying for the Nagurski-Woodson Award.
To win the two trophies in 2013, Borland beat out the leader of the unbeaten Ohio State defense, linebacker Ryan Shazier. Shazier amassed unrivaled defensive statistics this season for coach Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes.
Also in the running was linebacker and leader of the top defense in the nation, Max Bullough. Bullough is the epitome of a tough Big Ten linebacker. His resilience and toughness helped Michigan State procure a spot as one of the top two teams in the Big Ten this season. Also, Iowa linebacker James Morris had a very good season for a much-improved Hawkeyes squad that flipped their record from 4-8 a season ago to 8-4 this season.